California Assembly Bill 5: An Update
Nearly three dozen bills intended to revise or repeal Assembly Bill 5, which restricts workers’ freedom and could potentially kill the burgeoning gig economy, have been introduced in Sacramento. Here is some of the latest, and most important, news about efforts to smooth over the malign effects of the law:
- Republican Assemblyman Kevin Kiley has introduced a bill that would provide a grace period for the remainder of 2020. Says Kiley: “This will allow a limited reprieve to Californians who are impacted by the law today.” Outside of a full repeal, opponents would likely consider this their best option.
- The race for exemptions, which promote unequal treatment under the law, but seem preferable to compulsory participation by all, continues with Senate Bills 867, 868, 875, and 881. They would exclude newspaper carriers, freelance journalists, court interpreters and translators, and musicians from the standards defined by AB 5.
- Other bills in the Senate, SB 963, SB 967, and SB 975, would exempt youth referees and umpires, licensed pharmacists, franchisees, engineers, geologists, geophysicists, surveyors, foresters, timber operators, and some workers in the pest control industry.
- Additional workers who might be exempted include physical therapists, marriage and family therapists, shorthand reporters, interpreters, and translators.
- Democratic Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, chief legislative architect of AB 5, has amended Assembly Bill 1850, which was introduced in January, “to modify the exemption in AB5 for freelance journalists and similar professionals, and vows that additional changes may be in the works.”
- Former vice president and frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Joe Biden tweeted Saturday that he supports AB 5. The U.S. House has already passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would have the same effect as AB 5 on a national level.
- Democratic Sen. Cathleen Galgiani has introduced legislation, Senate Bill 1039, with the intent “to develop a modern policy framework that facilitates independent work for those who voluntarily choose it by creating a third classification of workers with basic rights and protections relative to work opportunities, including minimum wage and occupational accident coverage.”
According to labor law firm Fisher Phillips, Galgiani’s bill might “generate some discussion on a theoretical level,” but “it’s not likely to have a very long shelf life in Sacramento.”
- Twitter is still alive with AB5 rage. See #AB5stories, #RepealAB5, #suspendAB5, and #FixAB5. There’s even a #DemsAgainstAB5, which includes comments such as “you just lost our votes,” “@AssemblyDems had a chance to right a wrong & not one had the courage to do so,” and “#demsAgainstAB5 feel *profoundly* betrayed by this tyrannical & ill-conceived law.”
Unions, the driving force behind the law, are not going to give in much, if any, to AB5 modifications. This puts them at war with workers who have had their livelihoods eliminated by statute. Fighting with Californians who just want to support themselves and their families won’t be a good look for organized labor. It seems, though, that unions’ hunger to boost revenue from members’ dues is far stronger than any enthusiasm for sympathetic public relations.
The unions can afford to be reckless, though. They hold enormous influence in the capital. The loyal support of a majority of lawmakers is more important to them than their public image.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.